"Jack! Come down here! Now!"
The hand holding a half-eaten apple freezes midair. Slowly turning his head, Jack prepares to face his most dreaded nightmare: an angry mother with a long day ahead.
Serena yells again, "How many times do I have to tell you? Don't run off when the potion is cooking!"
"Yes mom", he sheepishly smiles. Smiling calms his mother down, usually. It doesn't seem to work today though, she just becomes madder.
"Do you still not know how unstable runic gates can be, even after you blew up our table!? What's next, the house?! And what did you put in your bag this time?"
Jack grimaces at the mention of the table. That was an accident. The potion then was a secret project, and he was quite proud when the explosion happened. Except he underestimated its potency, thus the table became a casualty. Fortunately he "accidentally" left the table when the runic gate "accidentally" made the potion unstable. But… Story for another time. The important point is, Serena has been blaming Jack for negligence every opportunity since.
The bag, however, has a perfectly good explanation.
"Mom, I was hungry you see, so I picked some apples. Yeah. I uh, thought you might be hungry too, so I also picked some for you." He jumps down from the tree.
On landing, Jack scoops up the small leather bag. He lifts it out of the shade, allowing Serena to see better. Trying to be inconspicuous, he flicks the apple core away.
"Ha-ha-ha," Serena laughs mockingly. "Very kind and very funny. Spill it, what poor animal is it this time?"
Jack furrows his eyebrows, truly confused for once.
"What do you mean? I only picked apples, I didn't have time to hunt yet?"
"Then why did the bag move?"
Sound dies out. Rippling leaves slowly stop dancing in the wind. A leaf suspends in the air, but neither of them looks at it. Their eyes finds each other's, and trade one word.
Serena's hands instantly wraps with swirling mass of blue air, mana dense enough to take form and shape. The mist summons an ice bolt and launches. At exactly the same time Jack opens his right hand, dropping the bag while pulling out his dagger with the left. He pushes off with his right foot, shifting his body away from the falling bag, and bends the left foot for another step.
It all occurs in the briefest of moments, less than a second, but they are not the only ones to react.
The ice bolt is mid-air, Jack is accelerating away, and the Thing chooses to lunge.
Planting its feet on the apples inside, it launches itself out of the bag and straight onto Jack's right hand.
And it's over. The ice bolt smashes into the Thing, freezing it solid along with most of Jack's hand. Jack reflexively jerks in mid-air, poison in his system and already inducing pain. The effect is too quick. It's abnormal and it'll likely knock Jack out. With the last dregs of consciousness he shifts his body to cushion the frozen arm, lands with an audible thud. He's already unconscious to the pain, but his arm remains intact above his chest.
Serena comes rushing over, another ice bolt ready, and scans the surroundings for more dangers.
This preparation is not needed, as danger did not come from forest. Serena kneels besides Jack, and sees the frozen Thing. Her face pales in recognition. She never imagined things to be this severe.
The name in a thousand horror stories came out in a soft defeated whisper.
In a dark and musty room, a black robed man sits in a meditative form.
The room is damp and dark, but not dirty. There are no windows, mana lamps, or ember flies. Yet there is light in the room, faint in source but bright against the shadows.
Six candles, burning only in the form of embers on the tips of the wicks. Pinpricks of light that can't even be called fire. They each stand on a corner of a drawn star. Runic glyphs decorate the star, power ripples from the runes, and the energy wraps around the six candles. At the center, where the most powerful glyphs should be, the space is void of mana and occupied by the man.
The old man, the six candles, and the runic gate beneath are the only things in the room. Nothing can give clues about the time, or place. And although the man seems devoid of mana, the dignity in his posture emits an aura of a grand magi.
Suddenly, the spark of a candle flares.
His eyes flies open, staring at the candle, waiting for something more to come.
And it dims.
Then the spark starts flickering, somehow darker than before but quickly growing into a flame. At first the fire has a normal, candle-flame shape, but then it flickers again. At the center, where the brightest flame should be, the fire is pushed outwards forming a hollow lightless shadow. The hollow flame burns, and slowly matches the flicker of the outer true flame. They come in sync, and the flame looks like an inverse fire, dark in the middle, and gradually lighter to the edge. A hollow flame.
The mage stares at the flame, slightly thankful for its lack brightness, and furrows his eyes in thought. Soon enough he closes them again, and returns to his meditation.
"It's beginning. Awaken… please…"
Updated: Prologue version 1.1, checked by Redache